A/N: So I know I kind of just fell off the map after that last chapter of Long Way Down went up...er, sorry about that. If you want to know what I've been up to, check out the note at the bottom. ;-)

Beta'd by SweeneyAnne (flove her), and pre-read by THEChickNorris (flove her, too). Just for the record, I'm quite fond of all of you as well. 3

I don't own Twilight, le sigh...

Archers

It's not until Peter says those words to me, gives me the offer to just let the entire thing slide that I really get it. I never understood, not when it comes to him, and it's like the light bulb flashes over my head, and I feel like the biggest idiot in the world.

What I did to him, trying to get at him through Charlotte, trying to dissect and study his behavior by making him watch as she fought battles she shouldn't have had to...it was horrible. It was the worst thing I've ever done in my life, and I hadn't even been able to tell him I was sorry in a way that meant anything until two days ago—but I've learned that Peter's never needed that.

He's always known. He knew that one day I'd get it, and he'd forgiven me long before I was actually sorry, because that's just the kind of person he is. He's passionate in everything he does, including his loyalty; he'd seen the possibility that I could be something more than I was, and he grabbed hold of it and never let go.

I wonder when it really was, that we became friends, because I know now that there's no way it happened when I've always thought it did.

Not so long ago this realization would have confused the hell out of me, but I'm starting to understand this whole 'unconditional love' thing, and Peter and I, we're family. We may not always have gotten along, and there may have been decades of resentment boiling about, but we're tied together in a way that can't be severed. You don't throw that shit away for mistakes long past, or coulda, woulda, shoulda. Our past is just that, and Peter's never once given up on me for good; I don't know why I thought this time would be any different.

The party circles all around me in waves of happiness and relief, and there's some shit I gotta take care of—but instead of worrying about it, I take a deep breath before leaning back in my chair and letting everything sink in a little bit. I can't believe it's over, it's done. All of it.

I take the chance Bella gives me to slip quietly into the forest and run north to complete my errand; it only takes me ten minutes to find him, but then again, he's been waiting for me for hours—and yeah, I lied to Bella when I told her I wouldn't go after him, and I let her assume my words earlier were confirmation of that, but in the end I can't find it in myself to feel bad about it. This is about me just as much as it is about her—she's not the only one he owes.

Edward's leaning against a tree, glaring into the foliage in front of him, and letting himself marinate in his frustrated anger. He straightens a bit when I approach, crosses his arms across his chest as his eyes snap in my direction, hatred spilling from their depths.

"There's one thing you always were right about," I spit, taking two more strides than I need before pulling my fist back and relishing in the feel of his cheekbone shattering under my knuckles. The resounding echo of his skull bouncing off the tree bark is so supremely satisfying; I've waited so fucking long for this.

It's almost enough, the violence—but I push myself to say the words I've wanted to scream at him for months anyway. That fist to the face, that was for Bella; for all the times she was too timid and weak, every occasion he deserved it during the course of their short and destructive relationship, and that night so long ago when I told her I'd teach him a lesson—but this part, the words, they're for me. "You never deserved her."

"You think you do?" Edward snaps, narrowing his eyes and pressing his palm against the indent I've made in his face as he sways in place a bit with his disorientation.

I know that he fully expects his words to sink me; he thinks he can cast doubt into my mind and create an opening for himself, but what he doesn't realize is that that shit doesn't work on me anymore. I don't even need to think about my answer, it's something incontrovertible, a maybe that's etched into my bones and carved into my heart.

"You know what? I just might." For the first time I can remember that weight filling my chest feels more like a balloon, and I honestly believe that even if it turns out I'm lying today, someday, when I finally manage to let go of the last of this dark dissolving within me, that's the man I'm gonna be. The certainty welling up inside me is almost too much, but it's something I have to push to the side so can I stalk away, sure in my confidence, so Edward knows that this is something I'm not fucking around about.

I leave him stewing; I did what I came to do.

It takes hours to come to terms with this bright and happy future stretching out in front of me, and the smothering that's always enveloped my lungs doesn't actually start to dissipate until Alice finally searches me out to have our long overdue chat. I'm distracted and she knows it; she's managed to meet me within a very specific radius, one that ensures there's nothing I can think about except that this whole thing started in a small clearing, just two miles west of where I'm standing.

"You look happy," Alice remarks after a moment with a small smile as she shifts her weight nervously. "Confused, but happy."

"I am." I don't bother clarifying which, she knows I mean both.

"Good. Take care of her, okay? I know it really goes without saying, but I gotta say it, you know?" Alice laughs a little bit at herself, and I might have found it amusing, too—but it was right there. Just four minutes away...

"I'll talk to you later." I hear myself say the words half a second before I start running. Alice is laughing in my wake, and part of me rolls it's eyes and imagines the look Bella's gonna get on her face when she realized that I still haven't hashed everything out with my ex, but the larger part is focused on that tree that's standing a little crooked, on the grass that's still trampled from hours of my knees weighing down on it.

This was the scene of my last time.

The only thing I know to do is sit, just sit and remember and absorb the absolutely indisputable fact that this time it didn't blow up in my face. This time when I set out to do right I managed it, and now it's done. All that horror and pain, the vengeance and uncertainty...

I'm still here, still standing, though, honestly, that doesn't surprise me at all. The part that I still can't quite wrap my head around is that Bella's sitting out on the deck with family she's missed and friends she'll never let go of, knowing that everything is gonna be okay.

And this time...this time that's because of me instead of in spite of me. It's never shaken down like this before.

I know she's coming before I even hear or smell her. I always feel her, even when I can't.

She sits and we talk, and she kind of dresses me down a bit, but that's all okay.

It's over, and she's still here.

And then there's just the faintest glimmer. Just the tiniest shining of love and concentration echoing from around Bella, and I have absolutely no idea when she figured out how to do it. We haven't even talked about it since that first time we tried to get her gift under control and I petulantly accused her of wanting to keep herself hidden from me.

It's just a little, almost nothing, but she's trying so hard and honestly, I could be happy with the sliver of love I feel from her for the rest of my life, so I tell her I feel her and I tease her a bit, just for fun. I let her believe she pulled her shield all the way down, because one day she'll learn how, and probably sooner than I thought; right now it doesn't really matter.

She's so fucking beautiful.

We don't come back to the house until after dawn, and Bella looks faintly embarrassed by the knowing glances and waggled eyebrows shot in our direction. I couldn't give two shits what they think of us.

That tiny scrap of a girl Seth saved looks a bit lost, but it's probably only because it seems Seth has finally turned in for the night, and all she has left to shield herself is the way she's situated herself next to Rose in a manner that reminds me of a shy child.

I give her my Library.

Peter and Char head off in one direction, Rose and Emmett take the other, and thank fucking God Bella and I almost have the house to ourselves, because I wasn't kidding when I told her we had business to attend to. I have every intention of worshipping every single inch of her until someone knocks down the door to our room and demands we be social again.

I ignore the way Seth's sprawled out, asleep, on top of the coffee table in favor of little kisses and gentle nips at Bella's neck as we trip all over ourselves making our way to our room, where I make sure to show her each and every one of those little things I learned about myself out in the forest tonight; that I can kill without being a murderer, so long as it's for love, that sometimes compassion can shine so bright it blinds you into doing the right thing without you ever realizing it, even if it's not yours, and that Edward and Alice were just intersections along two paths that were always meant to merge.

The selfish fuckers don't even give us four hours, and it's less than one later that I'm wondering if maybe I'm going to have to start evicting people just to get some quality time in between Bella's legs.

It wouldn't be so bad, if it were just Emmett standing on the front lawn, insisting that if he doesn't need to escort Bree back to Carlisle then he sees no reason to leave, and Rose may as well go pack their shit up 'cause he's not stepping one foot off this property until Bella does—but there's also the fact that Char's looking at more paint swatches, Leah's snoring out on the deck again, Seth's still passed out on the coffee table in the living room—and I've got to find a way to get all these people out of my house.

"This ain't a mother-fuckin' hotel, Emmett," I scowl, but when I look to Bella she's got this look that's full of 'I understand' and 'I promise I won't be upset with you if you tell him no,' and I already know I've lost this one. It's totally worth it when the biggest damn grin spreads over her face, even though every single one of them knows that it's Bella that has me backtracking so quickly. "There are some outbuildings, I was thinking of renovating one of 'em. I guess we'll just...do that."

Bree's looking on curiously, trying to figure out what's going on, and I can actually feel her heart swell when Rose turns to her and asks, "When we get a place set up would you like to stay with us?"

Bree glances between Bella and I, and a small shudder of embarrassment runs its course through her before she nods emphatically. "I'd like that."

"They're not any better than we are," I point out, but Bree doesn't care. She's taken to looking at Rose like a Mom, and Bella and I are both perfectly okay with that. Bella's already told me she'd rather be a friend than a Mother, and shit, nobody's more maternal than Rose is. I've already got a runaway train screaming through my head, filled with all the ways we can help her get her gift under control, and it's a little bit weird to know that I don't want to do it just because the girl's kind of dangerous; I want to do it for Rose, so she can finally have that one thing she's always wanted.

We're working out the kinks of this tentative plan for far longer than I'd like—Emmett's even going so far as to draw up blue-prints to convert a derelict stable not too far away into a full on house. At first glance Bella looks excited and amused, but closer inspection reveals that the one particular sparkle that lights up her eyes when she's bouncing up and down on the inside is absent, and I wonder if she's as frustrated with these cock-blockers as I am.

Peter shoots a knowing smirk in my direction, and I roll my eyes before pulling Bella just a little closer so I can lay my cheek against her hair while she talks animatedly with Emmett about something or another.

And it's nice; the commotion of family and friends, the bounding and echoing of love vibrating all along my house, and this calm.


A/N: So I'm still not sure how it happened (I suspect a conspiracy), but somewhere during the process of writing Long Way Down every single one of my pre-readers, past and present, and my beta all asked me the exact same question within 48 hours, "Would you ever consider writing a back-story for Peter and Charlotte?"

The first time I said "maybe", the second time I said "I'll think about it"...by the fourth time I just said, "FINE! OMG, ya'lls are so PUSHY!"

Long story short, I'm hoping to get it finished in the next month or so, and I totally owe those four awesome (crazy) people who conspired against me (probably not really) a round of drinks :-)